Why Has Poverty Declined for Widows?

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One of Social Security’s objectives is to ensure that vulnerable groups have adequate income in retirement. Historically, widows have been of particular concern for policymakers due to their high rates of poverty. However, over the past several decades, their poverty rate has fallen considerably. If it falls farther, widowhood may warrant lower placement on policymakers’ priority list. To understand why this decline has occurred and what this means for the future, this project uses the Health and Retirement Study linked to administrative earnings and benefit records. Specifically, the project focuses on three factors that could explain the decline in widows’ poverty: 1) women’s rising levels of education; 2) their increased attachment to the labor force; and 3) increasing marital “selection” – i.e., the notion that while marriage used to be equally distributed, it is becoming less common among those with lower socioeconomic status. The project explores both what share of the decline in poverty can be explained by these factors and also projects the role of these factors in the future.